Yelp Revises Reviews Policies, for the Better

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After being hit with a class-action lawsuit contending that it manipulated its reviews for advertising dollars, Yelp has changed two of its posting policies. As a result, transparency on the business review site has been increased, keeping in line with Yelp's original philosophy.

"We're adding the ability to see reviews filtered by our review filter and we're discontinuing the 'Favorite Review' feature that's part of our advertising package," the company wrote in its blog.

Previously, advertisers pumping money into the site were able to highlight positive reviews of their businesses and promote them at the top of the company's review page. Smaller businesses--either unable or unwilling to play along with Yelp's advertising package--were then unable to have a "Favorite Review."

This "Favorite Review" feature drew intense heat and public scrutiny when the Cats and Dogs Animal Hospital, a veterinary clinic in Long Beach, California, asked the site to remove a negative review from the top of its page. According to the class-action lawsuit, filed by 10 small businesses, Yelp asked the companies to sign onto a monthly payment agreement--termed an "advertising contract"--in exchange for hiding or removing the negative review.

The other change allows visitors to see reviews that were previously eliminated by Yelp's filter by clicking on a small gray link at the bottom of a business' page.

Yelp claims that payola accusations are "conspiracy theories" and one of the "myths" about the supposedly misunderstood site. Still, it went ahead with the alterations.

"Lifting the veil on our review filter and doing away with 'Favorite Review' will make it even clearer that displayed reviews on Yelp are completely independent of advertising--or any sort of manipulation. We also hope it will demonstrate the importance of a safeguard such as our filter and the unique challenge we face daily to maintain the integrity of the review content on our site."

Yelp experienced a similar snafu last year when a California newspaper accused the site of extortion.

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